Music is often referred to as a universal language, however there are many dialects and few musicians who are able to freely converse in more than one. Young producer, composer and musician, Karsh Kale (pronounced Kursh Kah-lay) is fluent in several. Fueled by the music of his Indian heritage, and the influences of rock, and the modern electronic music of his American upbringing, Karsh Kale has become the spokesperson for a truly international music. In Kale's 2001 debut, Realize, and his follow-up remix record in 2002 Redesign - Realize Remixed, we heard the birth of a single, distinctive voice that could speak many musical languages. Now, that musical voice has matured - and the result is his 2003 release, Liberation.
Karsh Kale honed his music and producing skills in collaborations with Herbie Hancock, Sting, System of a Down's Serj Tankian, Moroccan master Hassan Hakmoun, Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal, and Ethiopian pop singer Gigi. He's a charter member of the super group Tabla Beat Science, playing and collaborating with Zakir Hussain, Ustad Sultan Khan and Bill Laswell. Kale taught himself to play the tabla, the tuned pair of hand drums used in Indian music, by listening to Zakir Hussain. Hussain, perhaps the most respected tabla player in the world, makes a guest appearance on Liberation.
On Liberation, Kale leads a fascinating hybrid band that includes his live group Realize, augmented by his signature tabla playing and intricate drum programming, some of India's leading musicians, Bill Laswell and the famed Bollywood Madras Chamber Orchestra. Kale's own restless spirit led him to a novel approach to music, and these days he's often heard playing electronic tabla in his recordings and his live performances. Despite being one of the hottest remixer/DJs in New York, Kale always envisions songs as performances, not as backgrounds for dancing. So at a time when electronic dance music suffers from minimal stage activity, a Karsh Kale performance is both a dance event and an organic, yet high-octane rock show. It is just what you'd expect from a musician born to Indian parents in England but raised in the New York area. In other words, it's like nothing you'd expect from anyone else.
With his new album, Kale has come into his own. Liberation immediately stakes out its musical territory in the title track with a cinematic sweep of soaring Indian vocals, explosive guitar riffs and orchestral strings atop a heavy break beat that develops into a musical landscape of styles and sounds. Vocalists Vishal Vaid and Falguni Shah, who both made splendid contributions to Kale's Realize, return here and are once again in top form. Karsh Kale has created something personal and deeply felt from the collision of Western rock music and various types of Indian music, especially the enormously popular style of film music recorded for India's huge movie industry.
Liberation is an album consisting of a myriad of atmospheres, from the cleverly-named "Analog Mood Swings," with its sparse rhythmic texture and its traditional Indian instrumental sounds, to the funk/rock groove of "Dirty Fellow." More musical territory is mapped on "GK2" - with violinist Lili Hayden's haunting melody layered between powerful syncopated rhythms and atmospherics. Kale maintains a balance between the explosive and the exquisite with tracks such as "Letting Go" in which flautist Ajay Prassana's lilting melody behind Falguni Shah's delicate vocals invokes a meditative sojourn that shows Kale's keen skill at contemporary pop production techniques. An anthemic blend of influences from U2 to the Cocteau Twins, the organic quality of Kale's band is beautifully epitomized in "Break of Dawn."
"Epic" is another indefinable genre-buster, a gradually building piece of orchestral electronica in the form of a ballad that features Vaid's deeply resonant vocals. There are some real epics on Liberation. "Milan," dedicated to Kale's daughter whose Sanskrit name means "Meeting of Two Rivers," is a graceful and melodic gathering of bansuri (the Indian wood flute,) a masterful tabla performance by Zakir Hussain, bassist Bill Laswell's low-end, and the strings of the Madras Chamber Orchestra. As Kale complements this sensuous work with his technical prowess, the whole song echoes the form of the Indian dhun - a rhythmic, light-classical work usually based on popular or folk music.
Recorded over a four-month period in New York, New Delhi, Madras and Mumbai, Liberation highlights Kale's ear for talent: sitar prodigy Niladri Kumar and co-composer and string arranger Salim Merchant assist Kale in the eerily cosmic orchestral interlude, "Cinematic Reprise." The results are unmistakably universal, which helps explain why Kale sounds as convincing playing with jazz stalwarts like Pharoah Sanders as he does in the futuristic music of DJ Spooky. There's no sense of a forced "fusion" of incompatible styles, only a genuine love for different streams of music that have come together in a young generation of American musicians of South Asian descent. Liberation is Karsh Kale's soundtrack for the 21st Century Asian-American experience; a cinematic expression of the rebirth of one's identity in a realm free of cultural constraints both earthly and spiritual.